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Lockdown holds lessons for future preparedness in agric sector

The need to ensure food production activities such as crop farming and animal husbandry, and required support services like input supplies remain functional during unforeseen situations that could cause nationwide shutdown, has been reinforced as currently being experienced with the Coronavirus pandemic.

Announcement of movement restrictions otherwise referred to as lockdowns, came in March around the time preparations for this year’s planting season would have started in some parts of Nigeria, particularly in the South.

The fear of harassments and extortions by the different law enforcement agencies, made farmers’ groups and corporates cry out to demand clear declarations that they could continue to carry out an important function; producing food. The agitation by farmers, beyond ensuring their means of livelihoods would not suffer much, was perhaps of more benefit to the average Nigerian who would require food during the lockdown and afterwards. However, if agricultural productivity slowed down, the impacts would be felt not only this year, but beyond.

“We consider movement of agricultural inputs as essential and those are to be allowed,” said Kabiru Ibrahim, president, All Farmers Association of Nigeria in a phone interview from Katsina. According to him, these constitute essential items granted exemptions when President Muhammadu Buhari announced restriction of movement in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja.

“I’m not sure those things would suffer, just like medicines and certain items used for the containment of the pandemic,” he said. “Also, day old chicks moving from one part of the country to another once marked as what they really are would be allowed passage”.

However, Ezekiel Ibrahim, president, Poultry Association of Nigeria, had raised an alarm in a statement sent to BusinessDay, that “The situation of the poultry products market is not stable at the moment.”

This statement was sent shortly before obtaining the AFAN comment (that poultry products were not to encounter difficulties). Ibrahim explained in the statement that if urgent steps were not taken to remove the restriction on the movement of vehicles conveying poultry products like Day-Old-Chicks (DOCs), Meat and Eggs, Poultry feeds and drugs, “the poultry industry which is on the path of becoming the mainstay of the Nigerian livestock industry might be completely destroyed”.

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Ibrahim in a subsequent chat indicated the challenge with moving poultry products had been resolved courtesy of intervention of top government and security officials.

Even as human beings require food to stay healthy and function, farmers also need essential inputs (such as seeds, fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides) in order for them to produce food that will be consumed by the populace. Just as COVID-19 arrived and necessitated lockdowns at the beginning of the new farming season, some other catastrophic occurrence could emanate in the future, and without the production and supply value chain granted immunity of sort from either overzealousness or attempts at extortions by law enforcement agencies, food security would be threatened at such a time.

 “Farming by nature has its logistics side, so if inputs cannot get to the end user at the appropriate time, there’s no gainsaying it is going to affect the entire chain,” said Tunde Kayode, GM/group head of Farm Inputs, Elephant Group Plc.

Following clarifications from top government officials including Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), agricultural goods and inputs appear to now enjoy ease of passage. However, in the future, stakeholders in the sector expect explicit pronouncements that would protect the industry and allow it continue operating with little or no disruptions.

For Matthew Omidiji, MD, Premier Seeds Limited, “Definitely there is going to be scarcity of food next year,” basing his comment on disruptions to the supply of inputs such as seeds and fertilisers to farmers. With time, it will be seen how much agricultural productivity will really be affected.

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